Tag Archive: Frank Luntz

Newt Gingrich and the Republicans’ Dog Whistle Messaging

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On MSNBC’s Politics Nation” program yesterday, host Al Sharpton his guests Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post and syndicated columnist Bob Franken discussed Newt Gingrich in the videotaped segment above. After the panel viewed some recent clips of Gingrich speaking in his usual hyperbolic manner, Franken says that Gingrich “is the master of certain key words.” Franken mentions that some of Gingrich’s remarks were at a forum hosted by “Frank Luntz, who is the wordsmith of the Republican Party.” Franken goes on to say that:

He [Luntz] knows, and Newt knows, that if he says words like ‘Islamist’ and ‘Socialist’ and ‘radical’ and ‘reactionary,’ people aren’t going to really care. His followers, they used to call them ‘dittoheads’ when we were talking about Rush Limbaugh, the followers aren’t going to really listen to the substance of what he says. He knows that he can push buttons. That used to be called ‘demagoguery.’

Franken’s description of Gingrich’s use of words is a perfect encapsulation of the Republicans’ political strategy: their key to success isn’t to put forth the best ideas and then convince voters to vote for them, it’s merely to sprinkle their remarks with the right magic words (focus-group tested in advance by the likes of Frank Luntz), causing a Pavlovian emotional response, i.e., “pushing buttons”, among Republican voters. Franken calls this “demagoguery.” A simpler description would be “brainwashing”. And a more intellectually and morally bankrupt strategy is difficult to imagine.

Alan Grayson Shines Spotlight on Republican Propaganda Machine

When it comes to political communication, former (and would-be once again) U.S. House Representative Alan Grayson of Florida gets it. Not only does he come up with simple and dramatic language in his own communications (who can forget his description of the Republican health care plan as “don’t get sick” and “if you do get sick, die quickly”?), but now he’s shining a much-needed spotlight on the Republican messaging machine, and its guru Frank Luntz.

In a recent Huffington Post piece, Grayson took aim at Luntz and the Republicans for their use of the phony term “job creators” to describe large U.S. corporations which have been eliminating jobs in America and creating them in China, India, and other foreign countries. Grayson points out that “job creators”, as well as other oft-repeated fake and misleading Republican phrases such as “death tax”, “energy exploration”, “climate change”, and “government takeover” are nothing short of propaganda.

Whether or not Alan Grayson makes it back to the U.S. House of Representatives, it’s a sure bet that he will continue to employ his sharp communications skills and his ability to point out Republican propaganda wherever he hears it.

The Boys Who Cried “Power Grab”

Here’s an enlightening post from the Daily Kos published at the end of last year, entitled “If it’s Wednesday, it Must be an Unprecedented Power Grab”. The post highlights the Republicans’ use of the term “power grab” over the years to describe a wide variety of Democratic proposals, from Senate procedures to the auto company bailout to the Clean Water Restoration Act, with which the Republicans disagree.  As the post indicates, “it’s a standard play, like so many of their Frank Luntz focus group-tested go-to phraseology.” (emphasis added).

Note also how this is a perfect example of Messaging Maxim #2: Rinse and Repeat. Sometimes the Republicans gussie up the phrase “power grab” with alarming adjectives like “unprecedented”, “major”, and “biggest”, but at the root is always the underlying phrase “power grab”.  That phrase will now take its rightful place on the ever-expanding list of Political Phrases Used by Republicans.

You have to hand it to the Republicans: they know how to stay on message, and it can be extremely effective, especially until folks like us and the Daily Kos bring it to people’s attention.

Fox “News” Busted Trying to Slant News — Part One

As this piece from Crooks and Liars last December indicates, a leaked email from Fox “News” Washington Managing Editor Bill Sammon demonstrates how Fox deliberately and calculatedly uses language to slant news stories in favor of Republicans and/or against President Obama and the Democrats.

The issue was health care and, in 2009, Republican language guru Frank Luntz (a name you will likely hear a lot on this blog) advised Fox’s Sean Hannity to use the label “government option” in place of the Democrats’ “public option” proposal, because, according to Luntz, that simple one-word change caused a shift in voter reaction against the public option.  According to Crooks and Liars, Sammon picked up on this advice and sent an email instructing Fox employees: “Please use the term ‘government-run health insurance’ or, when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible”.

This is why mentions of “Fox ‘News’” will appear in quotes in this blog. It isn’t a news organization. It is the propaganda arm of the Republican Party.

Messaging Maxim #2: Rinse and Repeat

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”
Vladimir Lenin

According to PolitiFact, the biggest lie of the year 2010 was the Republicans’ description of the Democrats’ health insurance reform bill as “a government takeover of health care”. How many times did you hear that phrase during the Summer and Fall of 2010? If you followed the news at all, probably hundreds.  That was deliberate, and, according to PolitiFact, the phrase was cooked up by the Republican Party’s language guru, Frank Luntz.  However, leading Republicans made this phrase stick, by repeating it in a highly disciplined manner, whereupon it was picked up by their followers and by the mainstream media. (“Government takeover of health care” or “government-run health care” was also a short, simple, catchy slogan.  As was discussed in our podcast at the Shane-O.com website last December,  such simplicity is also key to good political messaging, and will be the subject of another upcoming Messaging Maxim.)

Repetition of political catch phrases such as “government-run health care”, even when the phrases are false,  is one of the Republican Party’s strengths. As mentioned in A Messaging Manifesto For Democrats, the GOP has a huge list of such phrases, including “pro-life”, “death tax”, and many more.  Leading Republicans repeat these phrases in a disciplined manner every chance they get, such as on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, on every news television interview program on which they are invited, in newspaper and online articles, etc.  The result is that the messages, which are framed in a manner favorable to Republicans (and often focus group-tested beforehand),  are echoed in the mainstream media, and they sink into our subconscious, thereby tilting the political battlefield in the Republicans’ favor.

This crucial element of repeating political messages is sorely lacking on the Democratic side. Quick, can you think of one catch phrase to describe any Democratic Party policies (or used by Democrats to describe Republican policies)? They are very few in number. Bill Clinton used “mend it, don’t end it” to try to stave off Republican efforts to cancel federal affirmative action programs.  But that was more than 15 years ago.

A Messaging Manifesto For Democrats

The summer of 2010 was the second summer in a row in which Democrats lost control of the political message, and the news cycle. Given the 2010 election results, how did that work for you?

What’s the Problem?

In the summer of 2009, Republicans and their Tea Party surrogates took over Congressional town hall meetings, repeating false phrases such as “government-run health care.” Democrats dawdled for weeks, and when they finally responded, all they could muster was “no it isn’t.” Guess who won that battle? The “health care reform” law passed by the Democrats who control Congress and the presidency was severely watered down.